FC Cologne 1 Arsenal 0
UEFA Europa League – Group Stages
As the wind caused the impressive Atomium to rock slightly, and with the Heysel Stadium clearly visible in the distance, it was time to plan our strategy for Cologne.
We wanted to get out of Dodge fast, so a decision was made to head to the North side of Brussels to see one of the iconic European structures, and then put a plan together for the day. We had a contact, Eddie, who had been put onto us by a third party, and he could guarantee three tickets for the ‘sold out’ game against Arsenal.
|The Rhine Energie Stadium - But Would We Get In?|
Eddie could do them for 80 Euro’s each, but despite numerous conversations, he was proving a bit difficult to pin down. He was supposed to be in Brussels the same night as us, but it turned out he was in Basel, so could we contact him when we got to Cologne to meet up? Of course we could, but from what we perhaps naively thought was simply a contact of a contact who had some spare tickets, it was now starting to emerge that we were dealing with a ticket tout!
|The Heysel Stadium From Atop The Atomium|
I took the wheel again and made the way across Belgium to Liege, and then into Germany via Aachen, before finally arriving in Cologne and parking adjacent to the impressive Rhein Energie Stadium. We phoned Eddie, he wasn’t yet in Cologne, he was in Frankfurt, but he would contact us when he arrived.
We got the tram into the centre of Cologne, a place we have visited on a couple of occasions previously, and knowing the format in the area close to the stunning Dom, we soon found a bar in an amongst the many hundreds of Gooners who were clearly enjoying the German beer. Our bar was an Irish bar called ‘The Corkonian’ and while the atmosphere was boisterous and rowdy, it wasn’t threatening or troublesome. The Police were staying close to the Arsenal fans, but kept a sensible and non-provocative distance, which is probably exactly how it should be.
With time running on we made our way back on the tram to the Western outskirts of Cologne to get ourselves in a position to meet Eddie. A call was made, he said he would be with us in half an hour, then after 45 minutes and no sign of Eddie, another call was made, this time he was on a tram himself as we could hear the noise of the fans singing. More time elapsed, still no Eddie, so more calls, it appeared he was in the McDonalds over the road doing some deals. Shall we go to him? No, we his reply, he would come to us.
Eddie arrived, a confident and friendly German, I would say in his early thirties, he told us he wanted us to walk over to the McDonalds as he didn’t want to be spotted trading by security close to the stadium. By now it was clear, this was a ticket tout.
He lead us upstairs and produced three match tickets, face value 67 Euro for an adult. He spoke in German to Theo and I could tell that the conversation wasn’t going smoothly.
The 80 Euro’s was suddenly 150 Euro’s each, We clearly baulked at that, but he wouldn’t budge, so Mr Hatt senior decided he wasn’t having any of it and walked away. I then pitched in with an offer of 100 Euro each, but Eddie was not having that either, it seems ‘the agency’ had put the prices up since we first did the deal via the third party. Clearly this was bollocks, so when he said his best offer was 130 Euro’s each, I walked away.
|Move Your Bloody Head Man!|
I was just making my way down the steps, when Theo shouted me back, it appears Eddie was now prepared to accept 100 Euro’s, so we paid up. Clearly, with time running out until kick off (20 minutes) Eddie was thinking about the lack of time he had to find a new buyer, but it just shows how these guys operate, he had tried to keep us waiting until the last minute thinking we would pay top dollar out of desperation, but that wasn’t going to happen. Who won in the deal? Well we paid over 30 Euro extra for each ticket based on face value, as for Eddie, I’m sure he wasn’t down on the deal, but what he acquired the tickets for is anyone’s guess.
Interestingly though, as we made our way to the stadium, with time running out, Eddie jogged past us and was last spotted asking a fellow tout (there were numerous ones about) if he had any spare tickets to sell? This was now less than ten minutes before kick off, so quite what the optimum time for touting is I’m not sure, but I suspect the number of transactions do lift in the final minutes as desperation on both sides kicks in.
As a final point on Eddie, as we concluded the deal, he told us to keep his number as he could get us tickets for any game we wanted, just give him a call………..
|The Arse - Tucked Away In The Corner|
By this stage it was a bit of a scrum to get into the ground, which we thankfully managed to do, despite a nervous few moments when you were hoping your tickets were genuine. We raced up the stairs and finally took our seats one minute after the game kicked off. People were still entering the ground up to twenty minutes after the game started, yet there were still spare seats? The game may have sold out, but clearly not every ticket had been used, maybe they were left in the hands of the touts?
The atmosphere in the Rhein Energie Stadium was simply awesome, the Cologne fans never stopped singing, while the Arsenal fans were happy to join in with the fun. The ground is a steep sided rectangle, with striking towers that were lit red and white on each corner. Despite Cologne’s awful season, no wins in the Bundesliga, bottom of the table and only one win from four in the Europa League, their support was amazing, and if you cast your minds back, 20,000 of their fans descended on London for the game at the Emirates at the start of the campaign.
Arsenal, who were destined to win the group, left some of the bigger names out and didn’t really get going on the pitch with any great degree of urgency. They played some pretty stuff and moved the ball around really well, but they did have a habit of over-elaborating, wanting to thread the ball through the eye of a needle and score the perfect goal. Had they got the ball wide they might have had more success but with Jack Wilshire in the middle of the park as the only creative force trying to unlock the defence, his tendency was to go through the middle rather than to the flanks.
Cologne won a dodgy penalty just after the hour mark, and it was left to Sehrou Guirassy to put the ball into the net for the only goal of the game. The hosts were not a good side by any means, but on the night they stayed tight, kept their shape and scored a goal that was always going to come from some sort of set piece as one from open play looked extremely unlikely.
The fans celebrated at the end, by which time nearly half of the Gooners had already left the ground, not doubt heading back to the bars of Cologne. We made our way to the car and were soon back on the motorway North with beer to drink.
|Some Football - It's Not All About The Beer You Know?|
We finished the night in a local bar in Duiven having an England v Holland pool tournament, then we finally got to bed at 4am after putting the World to rights. I won’t say we drank a toast to Eddie, but it had been an experience, and obviously it gave us something of a tale to tell as we laughed about our meeting with him.
Oh, and we have kept his number, only you never know when he might be of assistance in the future….